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20,667

November 16, 2018

A unanimous Supreme Court earlier this week agreed with the findings of a court-appointed special master that breath tests from Alcotest machines that may not have been properly calibrated are inadmissible in court. The case stemmed from an appeal by one woman, Eileen Cassidy, who pled guilty to DWI when her Alcotest showed her blood alcohol level exceeded the legal limit, but it could affect 20,667 individuals whose cases hinge on the devices used in Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, Somerset and Union counties between 2008 and 2016.

According to court papers, State Police Sgt. Marc Dennis was responsible for conducting semi-annual calibrations of the Alcotest machines for the five counties, but he has been charged with failing to perform required temperature checks on at least some of the devices and falsifying records. The case against Dennis is pending. After learning that the results of her test were called into question because of Dennis’s alleged actions, Cassidy sought to withdraw her guilty plea.

The machines Dennis was responsible for calibrating were used to take breath samples from 20,667 people, according to the state Attorney General’s office. The state had argued that the risk of miscalibration was “infinitesimal” because of other fail-safes in the calibration procedure. But the court, in its decision, stated that “alleged human failings have cast doubt on the calibration process” and that confidence in the reliability of these machines “is of paramount importance.” Under the ruling, the state must notify all affected defendants that breath test results from machines that had not been properly calibrated are inadmissible in court. The decision states that those charged in cases that have already been decided can “take appropriate action,” which might include going back to court if they want to seek to overturn a resulting guilty plea or conviction and asks the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts to monitor these cases. It also vacated the conviction of Cassidy, who has since died.

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